St. Charles business owners vow to start anew after fire

No injuries; Ameliorate Massage, FEET by Karen hope to find new home

ST. CHARLES – Theresa Winters described her business, Ameliorate Massage in St. Charles, as her favorite place to be. She had been at 826 S. Third St. for nearly four years.

“I wanted to have this office, and I was so happy to have it,” she said. “I was able to make it exactly the way I wanted it, a beautiful, peaceful sanctuary that would welcome everyone in.”

On Sunday, Winters learned that the building that housed her business – along with two other businesses and a residential unit – had been destroyed by fire. Although disappointed, Winters said Monday that she lives by a belief that “all things work together for good,” and the longtime St. Charles resident vows to open a new business in the city.

The St. Charles Fire Department reported it responded to a call for an odor investigation at 5:38 a.m. Sunday. Fire Chief Joe Schelstreet said Monday that personnel arrived at 5:43 a.m. and saw fire in the building’s basement, which was moving upstairs. The fire was extinguished in three hours, he said.

The building’s residents were able to escape, and there were no injuries to them or to firefighters, Schelstreet said.

Schelstreet said a fire report is being prepared, and it is expected to be done in about a week. He said although there are theories about what might have caused the fire, officials are not yet ready to release information about the investigation. He did say it was not considered a suspicious fire at this time.

“It did spread quickly … and we’re focusing on a couple of things,” Schelstreet said.

He said damage was estimated at $350,000 to the structure and $100,000 to the contents. He said it was a particular challenge for firefighters because of heavy snow that was falling, along with low temperatures. He thanked the Red Cross for assisting the renters, The Salvation Army for providing canteens and School District 303 for providing warming buses.

The property actually included two addresses – 826 S. Third St. and 828 S. Third St., St. Charles. In addition to Ameliorate Massage, the building housed a business called FEET by Karen Reflexology, run by Karen Heftman, as well as a hair salon, The Snippery. There also were tenants who lived in the upstairs area.

Heftman said she had operated FEET by Karen since June 2013, subletting her area from Winters. She was at the scene of the fire on Sunday, and she said she felt grateful that nobody was hurt. On Saturday, she said, she was working at the business.

“It could have happened at any time,” she said.

Heftman said her business was a dream, and she said she found a warmth and a connection with Winters.

She said Sunday was “a sad day.” She said everything had been “completely demolished.” But, like Winters, she said she would look to reopen her business at a new location. Though she said she would prefer to open a business in St. Charles, she is a Hampshire-area resident and might consider that area as well.

Heftman said she made connections in the Tri-Cities area, at LivingWell and the Holmstad, and had just become a member of the St. Charles Chamber of Commerce. She said she was touched by the outpouring of well wishes and support, calling it “more than I could have imagined.”

“I felt pretty popular in such a short time there,” she said.

Winters called the location “a great spot.” She was out of town at the time of the fire, but she said she was saddened when she saw a photo taken by a neighbor as officials were doing their duty of clearing the scene.

“My awning, it was personally handcrafted for me, and that was one of the last things the bulldozer ended up bringing down,” she said. “It was such an eye-catcher, beautiful and attractive.”

But, she said, she is hoping a new location will present itself.

“The healing will continue,” Winters said.

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